Veteran Youth Ministry Advice: It’s a relationship, not a business

The following post is contributed by Brian Ford. Read the entire “Veteran advice for new youth workers” series.

No red flags were waved, no sirens were sounded, and no one pulled me aside to sit me down and warn me. The day I answered God’s call to full time youth ministry I really had no clue what I was getting myself into. I’ll admit — if someone had warned me about the struggles of youth ministry I probably would have run the other direction. It’s been over ten years and I love what I do, but it’s come with many lessons not taught in any seminary class or youth ministry seminar.

I remember the first big lessons I learned in youth ministry. I had been serving as a volunteer Youth Director for a church in North Jersey for three years when everything came crashing down. I had turned ministry into a business and soon found myself stepping down from my position. Not because I wanted to, but because I was asked to stepped down.

The focus of “I”

During my three years as their youth director I accomplished some amazing things. Notice the key word: “I.” I was able to organize and prepare winter retreats, summer camps, and many other events. I was able to stand before a group of students and speak. I was able to lead my adult volunteer staff and persuade them to follow me. But what I wasn’t doing was allowing God to lead the team of adult volunteers or plan the right events. I wasn’t allowing God to speak to the students by allowing Him to speak through me. I wasn’t allowing God to train and teach me what I needed to know about youth ministry by deepening my own faith. Everything I did was centered on what I wanted to see happen. My view of youth ministry was based on what I saw in magazines, websites and the occasional youth ministry conference where entertainment was the focal point of the weekend. Bottom-line: I ran the youth ministry like a business. I operated the same way in ministry as I did in my secular job (I was customer business rep for a nation wide copy center).

The conversation that changed everything

It was spring and I was neck deep in planning the 30-Hour Famine. A few days went by and I continued with my agenda, planning the upcoming 30-Hour Famine. Then one night my roommate and youth leader at the time knocked on my door. “Can I talk to you?,” he asked. “We need to talk about this coming weekend and the 30-Hour Famine.” Once again my all business attitude took over as I assumed he wanted to discuss the details of the weekend. So I went into self-centered mode and began to share my thoughts and ideas as well as how awesome (fun) the weekend will be with the many things “I” had planned. In the nicest way he could, he cut me off with these words: “Brian, the Pastor and the leadership has decided you won’t be involved in the 30-Hour Famine. Pastor will be stopping by to speak with you. I’m just here to get any information you have about the event so the leadership team can make a decision whether to cancel or postpone the event.”

I was so wrapped up with my own agenda and my own way because I was a “big shot youth director” I totally missed what I had done. As a result of my pride and self-centeredness the pastor asked me to step down as the youth director for an undetermined amount of time. He said, “Ministry is about your relationship with Christ. I’m afraid you haven’t grasped what that truly means. Ministry is not meant to be run like a business.”

My heart was broken as I realized what I had done. That night after meeting with the Pastor I spent what seemed like hours on my bedroom floor crying out to God asking for forgiveness, asking for restoration, and seeking the Holy Spirit for answers. That night I realized the truth, but I had put planning and organizing ahead of relationships; relationships with people and my relationship with Jesus.

The main point

There’s more to this story, but for the sake of editing and size I’ve shortened it. The point is nothing you do in ministry will ever be more important than your relationship with Jesus. Focus on growing deep in your own faith, not running a business. Youth ministry is not about you.

Brian Ford began his ministry as the Youth Director for a church in New Jersey over 12 years ago. In 2002 he and his wife Kim joined the ministry of Interim Youth Ministries, Inc. a ministry designed to equip and train youth workers. Brian is also a speaker for youth events as well as writer.

Posted on October 14, 2008

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